Taste of romance on the isle of Lamu

Saturday March 13 2021
Lamu Stone Town.

Arriving in Lamu Stone Town. PHOTO | RUPI MANGAT


I’m on the isle of Lamu, on Kenya’s coast, stepping into Subira House, a 19th century house that belonged to the liwali (governor) of Lamu and lovingly restored by the Aarts, the Swedish-Dutch couple who met on the island in the 1970s and have been together ever since. It’s a testimony to love.

Up on my rooftop room, I’m in a magical world. I have the privacy of the sky above with the turrets of Lamu Fort across the narrow alley. It was built around the same time by the sultan of Lamu to hold his might against the invaders in a bygone age.

An artist sets up his aisle on one of the verandas of the Swahili house to paint the Lamu houses across the narrow alleys. The light softens, the muezzin calls the faithful for prayers and l step out to stroll on the seafront promenade with the dhows anchored below and women in their buibuis and men in long white kanzus enjoying the night breeze.

Under a spectacular sky lit with the stars we dine in the open courtyard of Subira that was a feature of noble Swahili houses. The fragrance of the scented flowers waft through the air as we are served fresh tuna caught on the day, set in lime and oil. The night passes until the call of the muezzin announces another day. Down in the courtyard, we stretch and start the yoga class, limbering up for the day. And then it’s breakfast — everything fresh — mango juice with ginger, home-made bread with peanut spread and passion jam with eggs and a fruit platter.

We wander out again through the narrow streets. A boy rides his donkey to school, a woman stops to buy spices at the store and we reach the jetty to catch a dhow to Shela, the neighbouring town.

There’s no shortage to dining out from spicy street food and seafront restaurants to dining on the dhows.


It’s busy with tourists... Unmasked. Many have left Europe fed up with being cooped up inside with the Covid-19 and cold climes. “I left six months ago,” says Geraldine Hurez from Paris who rented out her apartment and decided to travel the world. She’s finding a new life in Lamu, exploring the isle and the arts, walking the beaches and meeting new people every day.

It’s mid-morning. The breeze is gentle, the water startling blue. We stroll along the beach to the far end where the narrow channel between the islands of Manda and Lamu open to the deep sea. Golden-flecked sand dunes tower alongside and l step into the ocean. It’s warm and soothing. There’s little to do but soak in the sun and the sea until lunch hour when we treat ourselves to prawn curry at the Shela Bahari Guest House.

Later in the evening when the sun cools, l weave my way through the alleys back in Lamu Stone Town that is a World Heritage Site. I have to stop every few steps to admire the carved wooden doors that tell a story of their own when Lamu thrived as a powerful sultanate where gigantic booms or dhows sailed in from the Indian sub-continent and the Arabian Peninsula to exchange silk and spices for mangroves, elephant tusks and rhino horns and before that, slaves.

The bazaar is busy, a mix of old and new shops dealing in silver jewellery and Lamu furniture, fashion wear and motorbikes. Lamu is changing.

The following afternoon, we climb aboard a dhow for a sunset sail past along the mangrove-lined beaches as the fiery sun makes its way down the sand dunes.

This article was first published in The EastAfrican newspaper on February 13, 2021.